Show Business: Up, Up and Awaaay!!!

America's favorite hero turns 50, ever changing but indestructible

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As Superman evolved over the years, so, of course, did Lois Lane. Shuster's dream girl was a sketchy figure with bobbed hair and a working girl's hat; his successors filled her out a bit, made her almost glamorous; today she wears slacks, bangs and a look of grim determination. From the beginning she has been an object of her creators' male chauvinist sport. When she asks, in one of the very first comic-book installments, to cover the collapse of a crumbling dam, Planet Editor Perry White gruffly insists on sending the less experienced Clark Kent: "It's too important! -- This is no job for a girl!" Lois reacts by tricking the devoted Clark ("Would you do me a favor?" "You know I'd do anything for you") into missing the big assignment so that she can grab it. Clark gets fired; Lois gets stuck in the path of a flood; only Superman can rescue them both, as he always does.

Some women profess to regard Lois as a pioneering role model, the only go- getting female reporter. (Older observers can recall that Brenda Starr has been tearing through the comic pages since 1940, and that real-life role models of the period included such famous bylines as Anne O'Hare McCormick, Martha Gellhorn, Dorothy Thompson, Genet, Marguerite Higgins and Dorothy Kilgallen.) As a chauvinist creation, Lois not only bungled most of her assignments and repeatedly double-crossed the faithful Clark, but also subordinated all professional demands to her one romantic obsession. After she parachutes into a flood, she tells her rescuer, "I'd like to be in your arms always, Superman! As your wife (sigh!)."

The latter-day comic-book Lois broke off from Superman in 1982 because their relationship, such as it was, "didn't seem to be working anymore." But they remain friends. After a recent rescue, she offered him some white wine and brie. Lois has won a Pulitzer Prize. And she is dating none other than Lex Luthor, the onetime mad scientist, now transformed into the "most powerful man in Metropolis." This is liberation?

The cry for the Superman did not begin with Nietzsche, nor will it end with his vogue. But it has always been silenced by the same question: What kind of person is this Superman to be?

-- George Bernard Shaw, in Man and Superman

One of the odd paradoxes about Superman is that while he is a hero of nostalgia, the constant changes in his character keep destroying the qualities that make him an object of nostalgia. "For one bright, brief moment, we had a hero right there, and then we lost him, dammit," laments one disillusioned enthusiast, Marshall Fishwick, who teaches communications at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. "You have to look back to the '30s for the real thing. There are too many M.B.A.s now and not enough Supermans."

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